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5/24/2007 10:54:00 AM

AL West: Ichiro Ichiban

Ichiro is well on his way toward crafting a Hall of Fame career.
J. Meric/WireImage.com
By Gennaro Filice

On the Gregorian calendar, May is one of seven months with 31 days, and nobody's happier about that than Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro boasts the highest career average among active players in the year's fifth month (.370), so the more days in May, the merrier for him. After a slow start this season, he's hitting .348 in May (and .429 during his current 16-game hitting streak). But Ichiro, who was the first Japanese position player in MLB history, has done far more than produce for just one month.

In Thursday's series finale against the Devil Rays, Ichiro's expected to play his 1,000th major league game. As he reaches the millennium mark, one question comes to mind: Is Ichiro a Hall of Famer?

Over his nine seasons in Japan, Ichiro hit .353, winning three MVP awards, seven batting titles and seven Gold Gloves. But when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration, the only stats that will truly be weighed are those that Ichiro compiles on this side of the Pacific.

No matter. In six and a half years as a Mariner, Ichiro's achievements are nothing short of spectacular:

  • 2001 Rookie of the Year
  • 2001 AL MVP
  • Six straight All-Star games
  • Six straight Gold Gloves
  • .330 career average
  • Two batting titles
  • Six straight 200-hit seasons (1,411 total)
  • Single-season record for hits (262 in 2004)
  • 247 career steals
  • AL record for consecutive successful steals (45)

  • Ichiro, who is a free agent in the coming offseason, needs to play at least three more seasons to reach the Hall's requirement of 10 years. In very good shape at the age of 33, Ichiro should easily meet this prerequisite. But even if he does serve the mandatory decade, some folks still doubt his accomplishments will be plaque-worthy. Here are the two most common knocks to Ichiro's Hall of Fame resume:

    1. Power outage: Although he has switched over to center field this season, Ichiro has spent the majority of his career in right field. Traditionally, corner outfielders are run producers, something Ichiro definitely is not. A career singles hitter, Ichiro has never eclipsed 70 RBIs. He has compiled just 63 career homers and a pedestrian .813 OPS.

    2 Mariners' mediocrity:. Ichiro has led the Mariners to just one postseason, in 2001 when the Mariners set the record for regular season wins (116).

    Personally, I think Ichiro's well on his way to Cooperstown, and these two criticisms are not as damning as some may think. First, there's no Hall of Fame rule that says every member must boast five-tool talent. Although Ichiro doesn't hit for power, he may have the best combination of four tools of any outfielder in the aughts (Vlad Guerrero must be considered as well). And it's hard to blame Seattle's current five-year playoff drought on Ichiro. The Mariners won 93 games in both 2002 and '03 but missed the cut because of the loaded AL West. Over the last three campaigns, management has constantly surrounded Ichiro with mediocre (at best) pitching and minimal lineup support, including overpriced underachievers like Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson.

    Barring an extreme drop-off over the next few seasons, Ichiro should become the first Mariner in the Hall of Fame. (Unless, of course, Edgar Martinez beats him to the punch.)

  • The deeper the Rangers fall into the cellar (they're currently five games behind third-place Seattle), the more Mark Teixeira's name arises in trade rumors. If Texas decides not to move Teixeira, his contract is up after the 2008 season. One intriguing side note: As pointed out by MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, Teixeira's free agency coincides with the expiration of Jason Giambi's contract in New York.

  • Speaking of Giambi ... A New York Post story claimed that the Angels have interest in Giambi. This seems highly unlikely for two reasons: 1) Angels GM Bill Stoneman never makes midseason moves, and 2) Arte Moreno can't stand his Halos having any connection to steroids (see: Moreno's reaction to the Gary Matthews Jr. saga this spring).

  • After 10 months without a single trip to the barber, Nick Swisher finally chopped off those free-flowing, medieval warrior locks. Why? Swisher's grandmother died of cancer two years ago, after which he was inspired to grow out his hair and donate it to Pantene's Beautiful Lengths non-profit fund, a group that makes wigs for women with cancer.

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    posted by SI.com | View comments |  


    Posted: May 24, 2007 1:31 PM   by Anonymous
    Let's not forget that Ichiro, between Japan and America has amassed nearly 2700 hits, putting him in the 3000 hit club early in 09. In fact, if you count the Japanese leagues (which most people won't, but perhaps they should - especially considering he was only playing 130 games a year) Ichiro has a shot at passing Cobb and Rose on the all time hits list.
    -JPZ, Seattle
    The last sentence makes a good point. Edgar Martinez should be in the all. It's tough trying to break stereotypes in baseball, and the elders of the sport--who still hate the DH rule--want to keep him out because of that. I mean, if closers and career-AL-only pitchers can get in, why not the greatest DH of all time? Everyone remember how good Edgar was, how he single-handedly wrecked the Yankees in the 95 playoffs, and his career numbers are better-than-typical for a member of the Hall. I mean, shouldn't you automatically get a pass if a post-season MLB award is named after you (such as the DH of the Year is now the Edgar Martinez Award)? It would be a travisty if Edgar isn't elected to the HOF.
    Posted: May 24, 2007 6:18 PM   by Anonymous
    if you put ichiro in the hall, then in a few years michael young will deserve consideration also
    Posted: May 24, 2007 6:52 PM   by Anonymous
    Along with the stats you cite, in his first 6 years, Ichiro has more hits in a consecutive 6 year period than any one in ML history. Case closed.
    Posted: May 24, 2007 7:43 PM   by Anonymous
    Nice to see praise for Ichiro. His combination of talents is certainly mind boggling. When all is said and done I'm sure he'll be looked at as one of the greatest ever.

    Someone should make a highlight real of him throwing out runners - especially from right field to third base. He belongs in center field with that glove, speed, instinct, etc., but those throws from right field are a treasure. And the guy was just on his way to breaking the major league consecutive stolen base record before getting caught on a botched hit and run (hitter didn't swing).

    He'll make the hall on his MLB achievements alone, but it will be nice for us to celebrate and enjoy his total baseball achievements along the way. No drugs, no hype, no ego. Just a baseball player.

    VFC, NY
    Posted: May 24, 2007 8:20 PM   by Anonymous
    Regarding the comment that 'If you put Ichiro in the Hall, then in a few years Michael Young will deserve consideration also'...you've got to be kidding?! Not only has Ichiro amassed the numerous awards and achievements listed in the article, he's compiled superior numbers to Young while playing one less year in the majors. This includes a higher batting average (34 points), higher OBP (36 points), but also a higher OPS (25 points) and this from a leadoff hitter. As a leadoff hitter, he's been one of the best in the game. Take all that + his stats in Japan where he was the most dominant player in the Japan Leagues and did lead his team to a title and he's a no-brainer for the HOF once he qualifies. The arguments against are ridiculous - World Championship rings and playoff success are not a prerequisite for the HOF. By that argument, Alex Rodriquez is not HOF material.
    Posted: May 24, 2007 9:29 PM   by Anonymous
    There is no question he belongs. If he started in the majors, he probably would end up the all-time hit leader. I'm a Yankee and A-Rod fan, but I've always considered him the best all-around talent in baseball.
    How often have you seen runners, who would normally try and tag, or take an extra bag, who don't when he's throwing from the outfield.
    Posted: May 24, 2007 9:43 PM   by Anonymous
    The corner outfield remark is pointless. That's basically blaming Ichiro for having one of the best outfield arms of this generation. If he threw like Johnny Damon, he'd have played center for his entire career, probably even in the Mike Cameron era.
    Posted: May 24, 2007 10:15 PM   by Anonymous
    If he isn't, i dont know who is!
    What on earth does Michael Young have to do with Ichiro? Michael Young has had two, maybe three solid years, while Ichiro is working on his seventh straight 200-hit, .300+, Gold Glove caliber season.

    When Young can make that claim, we'll talk.
    Posted: May 25, 2007 8:34 AM   by Anonymous
    Does Ichiro Suzuki speak english yet? He has lived in the United States now for 7 years, and I do believe it isnt to much to ask that he drops the interpreter and make a concerted effort to learn our language. Hell, if Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball can learn a little japanese in less than 1 season Ichiro Suzuki can lose the interpreter and have some respect.
    He's clearly a HOF talent, but what is he gonna say on the podium in 15 years when he accepts his plaque?
    "Hold on please while my friend interprets my gratitude towards your game". I have a huge issue with that
    Posted: May 25, 2007 10:10 AM   by Anonymous
    from da boy vince

    Ichiro is the best Japanese player ever(besides da boy vince). He has set records for hits in a season,wins in a season, AL conscutive steals, 1st Japanese position player, 2nd most hits in 1st 1,000 games of career, many Japanese records, great stats(besides power), and an MVP, Rookie of the Year, 6 allstar games and gold gloves, and a couple batting titles. LOCK.

    check it
    sexy time
    Posted: May 25, 2007 12:04 PM   by Anonymous
    I'd say he can understand and speak English much more that he lets on. He's been known to keep a distance with the media, perhaps to avoid his quotes being misconstrued (regardless of language) in the wrong way. So I'd venture to guess he's using his "poor English" as a cover to keep that distance with the media at large. Just a guess, but that's what I can gather based on his past comments and the comments of those around him.
    As for the HOF, I can't imagine him not getting in.
    Posted: May 25, 2007 12:08 PM   by Anonymous
    I would imagine that Griffey, Jr will be the first Mariner in the HOF.
    Posted: May 25, 2007 12:50 PM   by Anonymous
    Micheal Young??? are you serious... look at the plaques and awards Ichiro has gotten compared to Young. And that must be Bob Feller down there with the comment about Ichiro speaking english. I guess a requirement for the HOF is also to speak english. What a loser. Ichiro is great and he deserves it!
    Posted: May 25, 2007 1:02 PM   by Anonymous
    About the interpreter issue …

    I am Japanese, have lived in the States for almost 20 years. And I know some Americans consider using an interpreter, when you've been here for several years, as somewhat offensive, or at least aloof. You want to hear his own words. Fair enough.

    But from a non-native English speaker's stand-point, there are other issues. Even when speaking with close friends, a lot of us are constantly thinking "Did I just make a mistake?" "Did I pronounce that word right?" It tales a lot of years of being immersed in the language to feel really comfortable. In the case of a pro athlete, you are asking him to speak in his non-native language to the media. His words, with mistakes and all, will be in newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet. What he says, with accent and all, will be broadcast all over the place. Seriously, it takes a lot of confidence to do this.

    On top of that, Ichiro seems to be one of the most meticulous people in the sport. He is a perfectionist from what I understand. I would guess he would not be very happy to see his mistakes, grammatical or whatnot, to be recorded for eternity.

    I would think it's not appropriate if he used an interpreter to communicate with his teammates. I can definitely see how that might get in the way of camaraderie and leadership. Unless, of course, they were discussing something that requires a lot of big words. But with the media, an interpreter is more than understandable.

    On the side note, there are some countries, like the Scandinavian nations and Germany, that do a great job of teaching conversational English in schools. Japan's English education, however, is nowhere near that level.
    Posted: May 25, 2007 1:23 PM   by Anonymous
    I think Ichiro should definately be in. To count the fact that he played in the Japan leagues for his early years is somewhat ridiculous considering that he was effectively the first of the Japanese position players to come to the majors. More than that however, Ichiro deserves to be in the hall because of how he fundamentally changed the game. When conventional wisdom said Japanese position players can't make it in the US, he came to the US and promptly proved that the best of Japan is among the best in the Majors. As a pioneer of Japanese major league position players, and fundamentally changing how japanese youth baseball players may view their future, he deserves to be in the Hall. The contribution in the recent years of japanese stars in this league can't be ignored. Add to that the MVP, Gold Gloves, incredible batting average, his defensive skills, and there's no way Ichiro doesn't belong.
    Ken Griffey Jr will most likely be the first Mariner into the Hall. I don't see anyway that Jr goes into the hall for any team but the M's. His best years were far and away with Mariners. In fact, he is given much of the credit for saving baseball in Seattle.

    As for Ichiro, I think he makes it a moot point by gaining 3,000 hits in his career. The guy flat out keeps himself in good shape and can hit. In fact, he may end up with more hits than Pete Rose if you combine his Japanese and MLB careers. He is still going strong with many good years in front of him barring injury....and he barely takes a day off these days.
    Posted: May 30, 2007 2:59 AM   by Anonymous
    More proof on how amazing he is: if you look at the defensive statistics for all MLB center fielders right now, he is clearly the best. He ranks #1 in Range Factor and Zone Rating, and has no errors. So, at 33 years old he not only shows no sign of slowing down, but shows that he can change positions and be the best. Not just good, not just great, but the best.
    Posted: June 1, 2007 12:58 AM   by Anonymous
    Michael Young 2000-2006 7 yrs 905 games
    3676 AB
    561 runs
    1104 hits
    202 2B
    .300 AVG
    .344 OBP
    .453 SLG

    Paul Molitor 1978-1985 8 yrs 905 games
    3702 AB
    614 runs
    1080 hits
    176 2B
    .292 AVG
    .349 OBP
    .417 SLG

    these are their stats from their first 905 games, molitor went on to be 8th in hits and.....HALL OF FAMER
    Posted: June 1, 2007 11:14 AM   by Anonymous
    rangers suck!!!!!!! worst team in baseball...so...what about deniz gurbuz huh?
    divider line